Sharjah’s health and education sectors during and after the pandemic

Quality education and health services is important to ensure growth and productivity. With regular activities severely disrupted in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, schools had to shift quickly to online learning and integrate new health protocols when in-person instruction resumed. Quick adoption helped the emirate maintain its position as a regional centre for education. Hospitals and clinics, meanwhile, devoted substantial resources to testing and care to fight the novel coronavirus. Priorities established before the pandemic, as well as lessons learned in 2020, are now shaping the education and health sectors in 2021.


The education sector in Sharjah is under the remit of the federal Ministry of Education (MoE), though emirate-level organisations also play a large role in ensuring instruction meets the needs of the local population. The Sharjah Education Council (SEC) is the leading body in this regard, with its own budget to organise targeted programmes such as creating councils to promote parent and student engagement. The newest emirate-level organisation is the Sharjah Private Education Authority (SPEA), established by Emiri decree in 2018. The overarching mandate of the authority includes regulating and improving the quality of the private education segment, and attracting investment.

Early & General Education

Early education in Sharjah comprises nurseries, typically for children aged one to three, and kindergarten, for children aged four and five. Government employees are eligible to place their children in nurseries operated under the auspices of the SEC, while private nurseries are available for children whose parents do not work for the emirate. This structure also applies to kindergartens, with children of expatriates usually placed in private facilities and Emirati children attending government institutions.

Children then move through grades 1-12 in three cycles, which are compulsory. Cycle 1 covers grades 1-5 for ages 6 to 11, and Cycle 2 spans grades 6-9 for ages 12 to 14. Cycle 3 comprises grades 10, 11 and 12, with students graduating from secondary school at 17 or 18 years of age with a high school diploma. A parallel option of technical secondary school also exists.

School & Enrolment Statistics

According to the “Statistics Annual Book 2019” published by the Department of Statistics and Community Development (DSCD), there were 113 public schools in the 2018/19 academic year, down from 116 in the previous school year. Conversely, the number of private schools increased from 112 in 2017/18 to 116 in 2018/19.

In the public segment, 5185 children were enrolled in kindergarten, or Cycle 0, in 2018/19; 11,727 in Cycle-1 schools; 12,889 in Cycle 2; and 12,325 in Cycle 3. The private segment in 2018/19 counted 35,264 children in kindergarten, 65,473 students in Cycle 1, 49,929 students in Cycle 2 and 32,926 in Cycle 3. While males outnumbered females among nationals in both public and private institutions across all cycles, females outnumbered males among non-nationals in private and public schools across all cycles except for kindergarten.


In 2018/19 there were 1551 national and 1436 non-national teachers in the public school segment. Female teachers (1489) greatly outnumbered male teachers (62) among nationals. However, the difference was less noticeable among non-nationals, with 638 females compared to 798 males. Overall, the total number of public school teachers has fallen over recent years, from 3423 in 2016/17 to 3236 in 2017/18 and 2987 in 2018/19. This brings the student-to-teacher ratio in the public system to 14.1:1.

Though the DSCD did not provide any information on private school teachers, MoE data shows that there were 11,714 private school teachers spanning all cycles in 2018/19. The popularity of private instruction over public instruction – demonstrated by the high number of schools, enrolees and teachers – could be linked to many students’ aspiration to attend universities abroad, as private schools often follow international curricula and meet the high standards set by the government.


In 2016 the UAE rolled out a uniform licensing programme for teachers in the country. The programme is set to span all emirates and encompass both the public and private segments, with the twin goals of boosting the quality of instruction in the UAE and ensuring standardised teaching skills. In 2017 the country launched the pilot phase of the Teacher Licensing System, which saw almost 5800 instructors sit for a free test in March 2018. The aim was to have the system in place and all teachers – as well as principals, vice-principals and cluster managers – licensed by 2021.

The MoE established a fee-based system for educational licences beginning in the 2019/20 academic year. The test costs Dh250 ($68.05) plus Dh50 ($13.61) for the licence once the exam is passed. Applicants who do not pass the test on their first try have two additional attempts at Dh100 ($27.22) per resit after more training is provided. The exam comprises two parts: general pedagogy and the applicant’s specialisation. If an instructor lets their licence expire, renewing it will cost Dh100 ($27.22). When the fee structure was officially announced in mid-2020, the MoE noted that the charges were among the lowest worldwide to avoid undue stress on teachers. Around 7000 teachers across the UAE took the licensing test in January of that year.

Higher Education

At the tertiary level, most of Sharjah’s universities, academies and institutes are located within the 15-sq-km University City, which was established in 1998 and now hosts over 47,000 learners. Integrated services for students include free transportation from various points in Sharjah City and its suburbs, dedicated ambulances and response crews, and free Wi-Fi in all buildings and buses.

The city is home to five universities, including the University of Sharjah (UOS) – a leading institution in the region with more than 16,000 students – the American University of Sharjah and the Higher Colleges of Technology Sharjah. Other learning centres include the Police Science Academy, Sharjah Performing Arts Academy, Sharjah Research Academy, the Institute of Training and Judicial Studies, the Sharjah Centre for Astronomy and Space Sciences, and various facilities for Arabic, Islamic and heritage studies. University City is also the location of the internationally accredited University Hospital Sharjah and the Sharjah Research Technology and Innovation Park free zone.

Many tertiary institutions deployed e-learning tools and hosted online classes to some degree prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, which facilitated the relatively smooth transition to distance learning when the MoE closed schools throughout the country in March 2020. The UOS, for example, transitioned to full online classes within one week. At-home learning continued into the 2020/21 academic year; however, some students were allowed on campus, with UOS, for example, opening classrooms at 50% capacity. Flexible payment plans were also instituted for new students that year.

Pandemic Impact

The pandemic had more a disruptive effect on early, primary and secondary education, as distance learning was a largely new concept at these levels. In early March 2020 the MoE announced that the two-week spring break would be moved up from the end of the month and that all schools would thereafter be closed for an initial period of four weeks, prompting public and private schools across the country to begin online classes. The SPEA took advantage of the twoweek break to upgrade software and equipment, and conduct over 100 hours of teacher training.

In the private education segment, the financial impact on schools in the 2019/20 academic year was minimal, as student fees had already been paid. However, a survey conducted by the SPEA showed that only 20% of parents felt comfortable sending their children back to school when the 2020/21 year commenced in late August. In late February 2021 the National Emergency, Crisis and Disasters Management Team in Sharjah, in cooperation with the SPEA and the MoE, extended 100% distance learning to all private and public schools and nurseries in the emirate until the end of the second semester.

The Covid-19 pandemic demonstrated the value of online learning to students and teachers, and the blended model of in-person and online instruction is likely to continue, according to the SPEA. In this respect, the authority is urging private schools to continue to invest in digital transformation. All schools in the emirate, including nurseries, shifted to e-learning again in mid-February 2021 for an initial period of two weeks before it was extended to the end of the semester.

Health Landscape

The health sector in Sharjah is overseen by the federal Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHP), which facilitated the emirate’s coordinated approach to Covid-19 with the rest of the UAE. Citizens can renew their health cards, obtain fitness certificates and conduct other business with the national ministry via the MoHP’s local arm, the Sharjah Medical District office. The Sharjah Health Authority, meanwhile, was established in 2010 to enhance and regulate the sector by working closely with the MoHP, though its primary responsibility is to manage Sharjah Healthcare City (SHCC). Formed in 2012, the SHCC is a 4.5m-sq-metre medical free zone that offers investors various benefits such as a single-window system for setting up their business, 100% ownership and repatriation of profits, and no taxes or duties. Beyond hospitals, clinics, labs and rehabilitation centres, the SHCC attracts investment in offices, warehouses, hospitality and retail. Investment in research and light assembly of health care equipment is also welcome in the free zone.

When it comes to insurance, government entities are legally required to provide health coverage to their employees. The publicly run insurance scheme covers Emirati government employees and their families, while a social welfare card is available for nationals who do not work for the government. In the private sector, businesses in Sharjah are not obliged to provide their employees with medical insurance. However, expatriates must purchase their own health insurance plans and show proof of coverage to receive an UAE residency card. Private companies located in Dubai and Abu Dhabi are legally required to provide medical coverage for their employees, and consideration is ongoing as to whether Sharjah and other Northern Emirates will implement a similar requirement.

Staff & Structures

According to the “UAE National Health Workforce Account” report for 2018, published by the MoHP in early 2021, Sharjah’s total health worker density was 120 per 10,000 population. The emirate ranked third in the country after Abu Dhabi and Umm Al Quwain, with health worker densities per 10,000 population of 189 and 156, respectively. Further analysis shows a total of 2875 doctors in Sharjah, or 26 per 10,000 population; 4833 nurses (44:10,000); and 2657 technicians (24:10,000). There were also nine dentists and 15 pharmacists per 10,000 population in the emirate. Looking to the breakdown of other emirates’ stats, Sharjah tied for first place in terms of the number of dentists per 10,000 population and tied for second for the number of pharmacists per 10,000 population. Moreover, the emirate recorded higher ratios in each health professional category compared to Dubai.

In terms of infrastructure, the latest data shows that Sharjah had eight government hospitals and 17 private hospitals in 2018. In the public segment, the emirate had 23 medical centres and two dental clinics, compared to 364 and 68, respectively, in the private segment. The private health ecosystem also offered 149 rehabilitation centres, 43 speciality clinics, 34 general clinics and 27 diagnostic centres, demonstrating the popularity of private services in the emirate.

Disease Focus

Recent years have seen local and regional health authorities channel energy and resources into combatting the high prevalence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) among their populations, as more than seven in 10 deaths in MENA are caused by illnesses such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes. In February 2020, shortly before the threat of Covid-19 was fully recognised around the world, Sharjah hosted the third global forum of the NCD Alliance at the Al Jawaher Reception and Convention Centre. The three-day event included meetings, workshops and presentations. More than 400 delegates from 60 national and regional NCD alliances were in attendance.

Lowering the prevalence of NCDs and encouraging healthy lifestyle choices are priorities at the national level, as outlined in UAE Vision 2021. Some NCD-related goals in the document included lowering the number of deaths from cardiovascular disease per 100,000 population from 211 in 2012 to 158.2 by the end of 2021, as well as reducing the number of deaths from cancer from 78 per 100,000 population to 64.2 over the same period. Other health goals laid out under the vision include lowering the prevalence of diabetes among the national population from 19% in 2012 to 16.3%, the rate of smoking by men from 21.6% to 15.7%, and the rate of smoking by women from 1.9% to 1.7%.

The UAE Vision 2021 website shares statistics that already meet or exceed many of these goals: nationally, the number of deaths per 100,000 population from cardiovascular disease and cancer stood at 74.2 and 33.3 in 2020, respectively, while the prevalence of diabetes was 11.8% in 2019. That same year around 15.7% of men used some type of tobacco product, meeting its related goal, but the share of women using tobacco products increased slightly to 2.4%. Part of this overall success can be attributed to the National NCD Action Plan (2017-21) launched by the MoPH together with national stakeholders and international partners such as the World Health Organisation.


The primary health focus of all emirates in 2020 was the Covid-19 pandemic. By early March the country had recorded 27 cases – all foreign nationals – and proceeded to take precautionary measures. Beginning on March 19 foreigners were prohibited from entering the country, and UAE nationals could not travel abroad; Emiratis abroad were also not allowed to enter the country for a brief period of time. On March 26 a three-day lockdown was imposed nationwide, with certain segments of the workforce exempt from the movement restrictions. On March 28 night-time curfews were introduced to enable the regular disinfection of public places. June 23 saw the UAE ease travel restrictions for certain nationalities, and the next day the night-term curfews were lifted.

While caseloads remained low over the summer – at 200-300 new cases per day – the number of daily cases began rising in September 2020 and exceeded 3000 per day in late January and early February 2021. Increased testing is partially responsible for the higher case counts, as total tests stood at 28.8m across the country in mid-February, but a second wave also reached the UAE in the winter of 2020/21.

In late January 2021 Major General Saif Al Ziri Al Shamsi, commander-in-chief of the Sharjah Police and head of the local emergency crisis and disaster team, announced that a 7000-sq-metre field hospital would be constructed in partnership with the MoHP to receive Covid-19 patients who require intensive care. While it missed its initial inauguration date of late February 2021, the Mohammed bin Zayed Field Hospital – which comprises 204 beds – had opened by the end of March 2021. In mid-February 2021 Sharjah announced new restrictions to curb the spread of the virus: malls and other shopping centres would be permitted to operate at 60% capacity, while cinemas, entertainment centres and gyms could function at 50% capacity.

Testing & Vaccination

Covid-19 tests in the emirate are administered in some hospitals, clinics and testing centres, and at-home kits are also available. Testing facilities include Al Zahra Hospital, Burjeel Specialty Hospital, University Hospital Sharjah, all Prime Medical Centres in the emirate, MedCare Medical Clinic, and a screening post at the Sharjah Golf and Shooting Club.

In December 2020 the UAE began rolling out its free Covid-19 vaccination campaign with the Sinopharm and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, and over 16.2m doses had been distributed around the country as of July 15, 2021 – putting it at 163.74 doses per 100 people – the highest rate in the world. As of the same date, 67.8% of the population had been fully vaccinated and 77.3% had received at least one dose. The MoHP website lists where vaccines are given in the emirate. There are six vaccination facilities located in the central region, nine sites in Sharjah City and 10 in the eastern region administering the vaccine.


One of the primary short-term goals of the Sharjah authorities is to manage the pandemic, and ensure education and health services continue with minimal disruptions. The 2020/21 academic year will likely be coloured by a continued blend of in-person and online classes, with one or the other offering the majority of instruction depending on caseloads and stringency measures. Nevertheless, the pandemic served as an impetus to embrace e-learning tools, especially at the K-12 level, and their use may be seen more widely even after the threat of the pandemic subsides. In the health sector, regular activity is likely to pick up as vaccines continue to be administered, given many people may have postponed routine checks or non-urgent procedures during the crisis. NCDs are set to return as the long-term focus of health officials, reinforced by the fact that people with such pre-existing conditions were more susceptible to Covid-19.

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